TWINS TALK

IMGP6874Winter Ball in Minnesota!

Story and Photos by Gordy Jones

Major league ballplayers don’t really have an off-season anymore. Immediately after the season is over, most players rest their bodies for a spell, after playing for nearly nine grinding months. They use this down time to catch up with their families as well — but by the holidays, most are conditioning and working out daily. But keeping their bodies fit is only one part of their winter season. There are many charity events, school visits, banquets – and, of course, the Twins have their Caravan, and Twins Fest, too.    

Joe Mauer spent most of his off-time with his twin baby girls and his wife, Maddie. But in November, just as he has for the last six years, Joe helped his best pal, Tony Leisman, put on a very special day of bowling. This bowling event raises funds for the Highland Friendship Club, which holds events and activities for young people with disabilities, and it helps them to make friends and learn new skills. The Club was founded by Tony’s family, who felt the need of such an organization themselves. Tony’s brother was born with some disabilities.

Tony was Joe’s teammate at Cretin. While Joe was starting his rise through the Twins’ farm system, Tony played some pretty good ball at the U. Soon they became roommates — until this marriage thing got in their way. But their wives are great friends, and Tony and Joe continue to be best buds as well. bowling friendship 12 014

Joe is a natural with kids. He is happy to pose, bowl, answer kids’ questions, and even give hugs to the little ones. Joe is a star at the event, even to the kids who know nothing about baseball.

St. Paul native and Cincinnati Red Jack Hannahan is always on hand, along with Hall of Famer Paul Molitor. There are usually some Gopher players of various sports, local media, and few other local celebs.  But it is Joe Mauer who makes this event successful — along with many volunteers, sponsors, and the kids who rely on the Highland Friendship Club.

The Twins’ Caravan hosts a series of events in the Cities. Twin Citians come out for the local events because they love baseball, and because it is a reminder that warmer days are on the way. But it’s the small towns where the Caravan is a special treat. It goes to the most remote areas of Twins Territory — some places where fans would have to drive 10 hours round trip to enjoy a game. For them to have members of the team visiting their Legion clubs and schools is really a thrill. The Twins do an excellent job planning the Caravan, and dispatching the players, coaches, and announcers throughout Twins Territory.   

One of the Caravan stops in the Twin Cities is the Hot Stove Banquet in Oakdale. I love this event because the typical fan can afford it. This year, for only $32 fans had a nice steak dinner, and they heard from Joe Mauer, Tom Kelly, Pedro Florimon, Ricky Nolasco, John Anderson, Terry Ryan, Jim Rantz, Dave St. Peter, and Kris Atteberry.  It is preceded by a social hour called “batting practice” where you can belly up with every baseball enthusiast in town, because they are all there. IMGP7614IMGP7594

The following night, there was a fundraiser for Concordia St. Paul’s baseball program at Mancini’s Char House. Coach Lunch McKenzie and his assistant Jim Weisner were both clubhouse guys for the Twins at one time, and they have the talent, connections, and clout to make the event successful. Tom Kelly and Kent Hrbek are the two big supporters of this event and are always the special guests. As always, this year’s event was well done!

On Thursday during the final Caravan week, the Diamond Awards gala was held at Target Field. It is probably the classiest dinner associated with baseball in these parts.

The proceeds from this event go for research at the University of Minnesota, specifically for brain, nerve, and muscle disorders. Ataxia research is a big part of this. The late Twin star of the 60’s, Bob Allison, died from this disease, and his family is always on hand, along with many former and current Twin players there to receive their awards. Joe Mauer won the Most Valuable Twin Award, and Tony Oliva received a Lifetime Achievement Award. Steve Winfield, brother of Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, received Friend of the Game Award for his work with youth on the field and in the community.  There were 14 awards in all, but hearing from a father and son who are both victims of a dreadful muscular disease reminded you that your health is the greatest reward of all.IMGP7669

My expectations for Twins Fest were low. I had anticipated a sardine-packed Target Field, with fewer activities than before. Man, was I wrong! The space was well utilized, with activities on four levels, including the bowels down below — typically sealed off except for media, staff, and players. It is not fancy like the suite level or Legends Club. It’s just a bare cement tunnel, but it was a perfect venue for card and memorabilia dealers to set up and sell. It was almost intimate. Fans would be purchasing a card of a player, and he might be walking past on his way to his next activity. The guys rotated, but while I was there it was baseball-bat bowling with Joe Mauer, phone a friend with Brian Dozier, and bean bag toss with a Mohawked Jason Bartlett. Darin Mastroianni was sporting a beard, long hair, and a ponytail as he signed autographs, and it was great seeing my old buddy Jason Kubel back on board. IMGP7731

I had the chance to visit with him, and I asked a foolish question of my Southern California friend. I asked him how he liked the weather…and it was a morning where the thermometer had dipped to 20 below. He shook his head, grimaced, and asked, “What is there to like?”  

Next Stop: Fort Myers!    

 

Joe Mauer

As Mauer Returned to Camp, He Made Time for All!

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Photos and Story by Gordy Jones

I asked Joe Mauer if he might have a moment to chat for “Twins Talk.” He smiled and said, “Sure, Gordy. Immediately after batting practice.” IMGP5116

As soon as he finished, as he walked toward me, he was intercepted by another reporter. He glanced at me, signaling he’d be there soon, and talked to the other guy. After accommodating the other reporter, he invited me to sit with him in the dugout. As we entered the dugout, a dozen or more pre-game young fans shouted his name and held out balls and photos to be signed. He glanced up, and gave a smile, an acknowledgment that he knew they were there. We shook hands, and then sat down as I put my thoughts together.    IMGP5375

Joe Mauer played well at the World Baseball Classic (WBC) and arrived back at camp with a full head of steam: going two for three, throwing out a runner attempting to steal, and catching a wide throw at the plate and diving back to the plate to tag a runner before he could score. I asked Joe what the WBC experience was like. “It’s a great event,” he said. “It’s a chance to represent your country, and to represent it in baseball. It was a wonderful event. It was a little weird playing against Justin Morneau — it was fun — but I’m glad we won that game or I’d never hear the end of it. It was fun to get out there and have ‘Perk’ (Glen Perkins) on the mound and Justin at the plate.” I asked Joe if it was difficult coming together as a national unit when there is so little time to prepare. “Yes, it’s different. You have two exhibition games before it starts, and the fact you’re trying to get ready for the season. It’s a little tough, but it is something I’d definitely do again if I had the chance.”

He looked great — relaxed and in shape. I thought he’d be ready to go if the season began tomorrow, but he said, “I still have a little work to do. You know there’s still more than a week until we start the season. It will be nice to use those days to get back into a routine. The last couple of weeks, I felt like I’ve lived out of a suitcase. It’s nice to have a little more time to get ready for the year.”

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I told Joe I thought the Twins’ lineup looks great, but I asked him if he thought the pitching will ever come together. “I hope so,” he said. “I hope everything comes together. The guys are getting after it down here at camp. It’s exciting to see the team begin to form, and we still have more than a week to figure things out, so I think we should be fine.”

I congratulated Joe on the fact that he and his wife, Maddie, who is humble, sweet, and down to earth like Joe, are expecting twins. “Thanks, we couldn’t be happier. It will be a lot of fun!IMGP5138

Before he went back to his workout, I asked Joe who was going to win the NCAA basketball tournament this year. “I have no idea,” he said with a laugh, “You’re asking the wrong guy. I haven’t had time to follow basketball. All I know is the Big Ten looked pretty tough this year, so I’d probably take one of those teams.”

As we finished our talk, a woman from ESPN asked Joe for a few minutes of his time, and although I know he was panicking in his mind about it being too close to game time, he accommodated her with a smile. A short time later, I looked into the dugout to see them finish up. A couple of Joe’s teammates ran up the tunnel, and he said that he’d be right behind them; he had to take care of something. He walked up to the top step of the dugout to see if the kids were still there. They were, and he signed autographs for every one of them, as he conversed like he knew them well, and looked them each in the eye and smiled as he returned their freshly autographed items. Joe loves children, and he’s going to be a great father.